2009 Nissan Altima Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011

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2009 Nissan Altima Buying Advice

More than most midsize cars in its price range, the 2009 Nissan Altima can please as a family four-door with spunk or excite as a credible sporty sedan or coupe.

Choose the 2009 Altima coupe if styling is a priority, a cushy ride is immaterial, and you don’t need much space in the rear seat or trunk. The sedan is far more versatile and sacrifices surprisingly little sportiness to its two-door cousin.

The best overall value in a 2009 Nissan Altima is a 2.5 S sedan (starting price $21,735) equipped with the Convenience Plus Package, which costs about $2,200 and includes a power sunroof, alloy wheels, power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, and other desirable features. That makes for a good-looking, smartly outfitted car, one that’s roomy and delivers a more-than-reasonable balance of performance and economy.

For another $1,500 or so, you can get a similarly equipped 3.5 SE model with its raring-to-go V-6 and sport-tuned suspension. It’s certainly no BMW in terms of prestige, but a 2009 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE will approximate BMW 3-Series performance at thousands less. Just be careful with options; gilding with leather upholstery, hi-tech audio and the like will net you a $30,000 Altima.

The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid is for those who put their money where their ecological ideology is. It won’t disappoint for economy or performance, but is available only in California, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, and New York. These states share stringent exhaust-emissions standards and demand there is in line with Nissan’s limited supply of Hybrid models.

Altima is Nissan’s best-selling model and consistently ranks among America’s top-five selling cars. But that doesn’t mean good deals are hard to come by. This is a highly competitive segment, dealer inventories are ripe, and Nissan frequently offers cash-back or cut-rate financing on the Altima.

Should you buy a 2009 Altima or wait for the 2010? The 2010 Nissan Altima is not likely to get any significant mechanical updates compared to the 2009 version. But the 2010 model year does mark what automakers call a “mid-cycle” point, a demarcation between the model-year 2007 introduction of this generation of Altima and its expected redesign for model-year 2013. Typical mid-cycle updates include revisions to exterior styling, usually a new nose and a revamped tail, and changes to shapes and textures in the cabin.

Timing makes the 2010 Altima a candidate for a mid-cycle freshening, so if you crave the very latest styling – styling that will carry the car through to the end of this design generation – wait and see what changes Nissan might bestow on the 2010 Altima. If, on the other hand, you like today’s look and want to roll the dice that dealers will become eager to discount 2009 models if word leaks out that freshened 2010 Altimas are on the way, then the 2009 Nissan Altima is for you.

Nissan likes to pitch itself as the BMW of Japanese brands, and while the comparison is more appropriate to Nissan’s upscale Infiniti division, it’s entirely justified to think of the 2009 Nissan Altima as the sportiest offering among affordable midsize cars.

Every 2009 Nissan Altima boasts an athletic bearing played out in aggressive styling, fine handling, and energetic four and six-cylinder engines. There’s also a gas-electric 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid; it comes as a sedan and is available only in selected states.

The 2009 Nissan Altima isn’t quite as polished mechanically as its toughest rivals, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. But there’s a punky attitude here you won’t find in the Accord or Camry.

2009 Nissan Altima Changes back to top

The 2009 Nissan Altima is unchanged mechanically from the 2008 Altima, but Nissan has revised some standard equipment groupings and tweaked some appearance details. Sedans continue as base 2.5 and better-equipped 2.5 S models with a four-cylinder engine, and as 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL models with a V-6. Coupes return in 2.5 S and 3.5 SE guise. Hybrids remain in a single trim level that mimics the 3.5 SE sedan.

All 2009 Altimas receive a new automatic door lock system. The Altima 2.5 S features a revised Connection Package that now includes dual-zone automatic temperature control and rear air conditioning vents.

The Altima 3.5 SE now includes as standard Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) antiskid system, xenon headlights, fog lights, and rear spoiler. There are also new stand-alone moonroof and 3.5 SL VDC packages

Changes to the base 2009 Nissan Altima 2.5-grade sedan include revised option package content, and three new exterior colors. New standard features on 2.5 sedans include a new 16-inch wheel cover design, black grilles around the highlights, the addition of dual power remote-controlled sideview mirrors, and a standard trip computer and outside temperature gauge. Other base-model enhancements include air conditioning with in-cabin microfilter and front side window demisters, a lock for the fold-down rear seatback, dual sun visors with driver’s side vanity mirror, and speed-sensitive variable intermittent windshield wipers.

The 2009 Nissan Altima coupe adds automatic door locks as standard for both trim levels and the front grille receives a high-gloss paint treatment; it had been medium gloss). The 3.5 SE coupes get revised 18-inch alloy wheels with larger 235/45R18 tires for the 2009 model year.

2009 Nissan Altima Test Drive back to top

Driving the 2009 Nissan Altima:  The 2009 Nissan Altima sedan and coupe are available with a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. Either furnishes more-than-adequate getup and go, and most buyers are happy with the four-cylinder’s balance of power and fuel economy. It’ll do 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. The V-6 slices that to around 6.0 seconds and feels more robust off the line and especially in highway passing or merging.

The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid pairs the four-cylinder engine with an electric motor for 198 horsepower. It performs and behaves much like the conventional four-cylinder Altima and requires no plug-in charging.

The gasoline four-cylinder and the V-6 are available with a six-speed manual transmission whose sporting promise is undercut by uneven clutch engagement and long gear-shift throws.

Instead of a conventional automatic transmission, Altima features a Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT. This dispenses with gear changes for a seamless, rheostat-like transfer of power. It’s smooth and reliable, but like other CVTs, allows the engine to rev ahead of road speed during rapid acceleration. The effect is slightly disconcerting, and in this instance, reveals some coarseness in the gas four-cylinder engine.

Handling is a 2009 Nissan Altima high point. All versions respond smoothly and accurately to steering inputs without troubling nose plow or body lean in fast turns. Top-line SE versions feel especially sharp thanks to stiffer suspension settings and larger wheels and tires.

Like virtually all midsize cars, Altima has front-wheel drive. That puts the weight of the engine is over the drive wheels for good traction in snow. Some midsize cars in this price range, such as the Ford Fusion and Volkswagen Passat, offer all-wheel drive for superior all-weather traction.

Riding in the 2009 Nissan Altima:  For best ride quality think twice about an SE version if you regularly drive bumpy, rutted roads, and don’t expect much ride comfort at all from any Altima coupe.

The coupe’s wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) is four inches shorter than the sedan’s, and its body is about seven inches shorter. This tighter stance allows the coupe to change direction quicker, but a short wheelbase hampers a car’s ability to soak up bad pavement. And because the passenger compartment must fit between the front and rear axles, it extracts a huge penalty in rear-seat space.

So the coupe is cramped in back for head and knee clearance. The sedan has a reasonably comfortable rear seat, though not quite on par with Camry or Accord. Both body styles have generous front-seat room, though some may find the SE models’ seats too firm.

Trunk volume is good in the sedan, tight in the coupe. Both have fold-down rear seatbacks for extra versatility, but the sedan’s trunk lid has huge hinges that intrude on cargo room in a way the coupe’s strut-type hinges do not.

2009 Nissan Altima dashboard and controls:  Sedan and coupe share a logically arranged instrument and control layout. Ordering the navigation system gets you a useful rearview camera -- put the car in reverse and what’s behind displays on dashboard screen. The navigation system does introduce some complications, however. It takes more steps to program than it should and its touch-screen takes over some audio controls, impeding easy adjustments.

The 2009 Nissan Altima dispenses with a traditional ignition key in favor of a key fob that remotely activates the door locks and allows you to start the car by simply pushing a dashboard button without removing the fob from pocket or purse.

2009 Nissan Altima Prices back to top

Prices for the 2009 Nissan Altima start at an enticing $20,595 for the entry-level four-cylinder sedan. But despite the presence of such standard features as tilt/telescoping steering column and cruise control, this model is a real stripper intended mostly to capture Internet price searchers. (All prices quoted here are manufacturer’s suggested retail prices; they do not factor in any options, but do include Nissan’s mandatory $695 destination fee.)

The most popular Altima models are the more-sensibly equipped 2.5 S versions. These have the four-cylinder engine, and include such fundamentals as air conditioning, power mirrors, a digital media connection, and an outside temperature indicator. With manual transmission, the 2.5 S sedan starts at $21,735, the coupe at $22,445; with CVT, starting prices are $22,235 and $22,945, respectively.

You’ll move into the $25,000 range for a 3.5 SE model and such niceties as the V-6 engine, power driver’s seat, sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated power mirrors. With manual transmission, the 3.5 SE sedan starts at $25,875, the coupe at $27,085; with CVT, starting prices are $26,375 and $27,585, respectively.

The 3.5 SL sedan starts at $30,075 and adds leather upholstery, heated from seats, xenon headlamps, and other amenities.

Most all these features are available on any 2009 Altima, though Nissan tends to group them in rather pricey options packages. On the other hand, choosing the CVT over the manual transmission adds roughly $500, about half the tariff most rivals charge to go from manual to automatic transmission.

The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid starts at $27,345 and is equipped similarly to the 3.5 SE models.

2009 Nissan Altima Fuel Economy back to top

Automatic-transmission versions of cars usually use more gas than their manual-transmission counterparts, but Altima’s CVT shows its efficiency here with fuel economy very close to that of manual-transmission models.

Altima 2.5 models, which have the four-cylinder engine, are rated at 23 mpg city/32 highway with the six-speed manual transmission and 23/31 with the CVT.

Altima 3.5 models, which have the V-6 engine, are rated at 19 mpg city/27 highway with the six-speed manual transmission and 19/26 with the CVT. Note that Nissan recommends costlier premium-grade fuel for the V-6 engine.

The Hybrid maximizes fuel economy with an ability to run on electric power alone at low speeds and by automatically turning the engine off and on at stoplights. That means it’s most efficient in around-town driving. It’s rated at 35 mpg city/33 highway.

2009 Nissan Altima Safety and Reliability back to top

Every 2009 Nissan Altima comes with a fine array of safety features, including head-protecting curtain side airbags and antilock four-wheel disc brakes. However, an antiskid system (intended to keep the car on course in slippery turns) is standard only on the Hybrid and 3.5 SE models. It’s available as a $600 option on the SL sedans and on the SE coupe. It’s a worthwhile feature.

Altimas score well in government crash tests, but in protecting driver and passenger in a frontal collision, the sedan earns a full five stars on a five-star scale, the coupe just four stars. In side impacts, both garner five stars for front-seat protection, but for rear-occupant safety, the coupe earns five stars, the sedan four.

Nissan generally ranks about average among rival brands in customer surveys of initial vehicle quality and long-term dependability. “Average,” however, puts Nissan behind segment leaders Honda and Toyota.

Altima owners are happiest with their car’s overall design, and give top marks to the design of the interior and its accessories. They’re less pleased with how those accessories behave as the miles pile up.

Altima’s cabin mixes nicely padded surfaces and richly grained panels with some plastic pieces that feel thin and flimsy. Wind whistles around windows at highway speeds and the occasional rattle also can disappoint.

2009 Nissan Altima Release Date back to top

The 2009 Nissan Altima arrives in dealers’ showrooms in late summer 2008. The Altima sedan was redesigned for the 2007 model year, when it gained new styling and more standard safety features compared to Altima’s 2002-2006 design generation. The coupe, Altima’s first two-door model, was added for the 2008 model year.

2009 Nissan Altima Competition back to top

Main rivals for the 2009 Nissan Altima are the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Chevrolet Malibu.

Accord and Malibu introduced new design generations for model-year 2008, and won’t change significantly before model-year 2013. Camry was redesigned for 2007 and its next generation is expected for 2012.

On the road, Accord is the best match for the 2009 Nissan Altima’s lean, fit feel. In fact, Accord trumps Altima by going about its business with a sense of refinement and dynamic cohesion the Nissan can’t quite equal.

Camry is the luxury car of the bunch, best at isolating its occupants from road, wind, and mechanical ruckus, but at the cost of indifferent steering feel and sloppy handling. The Chevy Malibu delivers a nice mix of comfort and capability, but it’s compromised by rougher-running engines and a less-agile nature than the Accord and Altima.

Of this group, Accord and Altima offer coupe body styles, Malibu and Altima offer hybrid models, and Accord is alone with a planned diesel-engine alternative.

2009 Nissan Altima Next Steps